INEOS has accused Derbyshire councillors of a “confused” decision based on politics not science after they opposed the company’s plans for a shale gas well.
The county council’s planning committee voted on Monday by nine to one against the proposal for a vertical exploration well in the village of Marsh Lane. (DrillOrDrop live updates from the meeting)
Planning officers said there were no grounds to oppose the application. But the committee, local councillors, residents and campaign groups raised a wide range of concerns.
INEOS was criticised for not participating in the meeting. The company did not respond immediately to the vote but issued a statement this afternoon. INEOS Derbyshire press release 070218 (pdf)
Chief executive, Ron Coyle, described the vote as “a bad decision”. The development of a shale gas industry would, he said, “lead to an economic renaissance” with what he called “high paying, highly skilled jobs and massive investment in manufacturing”.
“Decision led by politics”
Mr Coyle said:
“The decision exposes the Council and Council taxpayers to costly appeal proceedings – all because the decision has been led by politics and not science and has confused a request to drill a simple core bore well with other activities that may not may not happen in the future.”
Monday’s meeting was not to approve or refuse the application but to decide the council’s position at a public inquiry on the scheme. INEOS had already appealed to the Planning Inspectorate. It said it was not prepared to give Derbyshire more time to decide the application.
Whatever the committee’s vote, there would still have been a public inquiry, due to open on 19 June.
Had the councillors followed the advice of officers, Derbyshire’s role at the inquiry would have been limited to a hearing about conditions. But following the vote, Derbyshire will now formally object to the scheme because of its likely impact on the green belt, local roads and the level of noise at nearby homes.
The decision was made across parties, with five of the six Conservatives and all four Labour members voting against the scheme.
“Simple core bore well”
In its statement, INEOS said:
“We understand that decisions on hydraulic fracturing can be contentious and difficult politically for local Councils, but this is not a decision about unconventional gas production.
“This is a straightforward decision to allow the drilling of a single vertical core bore well to gain scientific knowledge of what is below the surface, which has been agreed by many councils many times in the past.
“The fact that it may help to make decisions about potential unconventional gas extraction sometime in the future should not change the fact that this was an application for a simple core bore well, and no more.”
Friends of the Earth had sent legal advice to the committee that there were material planning reasons to oppose the application. The local Conservative MP, Lee Rowley, told the committee the scheme contravened 22 different planning policies.
Although the INEOS application was for exploration, not production, Mr Coyle said in his statement that shale gas was a resource of strategic importance to the UK and issues of energy security “always have to be factored in”.
“Whatever the outcome of a decision for a coring well, we will continue to talk with local communities about unconventional gas production with the message that should any further development of this site be appropriate, it will represent not only the right project in the right location but would also represent the beginning of a major industrial boon for the Midlands area that would create jobs, growth and investment on top of the energy security and lower costs it would bring.”
The Marsh Lane application site is in the exploration licence area, PEDL300, awarded to INEOS in July 2016. Under a commitment to the Oil and Gas Authority, the company has until 2021 to drill a well to a depth of 4,500m and drill and frack a horizontal well.
Mr Coyle said in his statement:
“It is also worth noting that INEOS Shale made this application to gather scientific data as part of its commitment to the Oil & Gas Authority to develop its license areas.”
But there are questions over whether the Marsh Lane well would have satisfied the PEDL300 commitments because it was proposed as a vertical well to a depth of only 2,400m with no fracking.